Wholeness: Lost and Denied

Last week a 21-year old Swedish man, dressed up as Darth Vader, walked into a school in a Swedish town and stabbed two young people to death.

One of the victims was a 15-year old boy who’d arrived in Sweden from war-torn Somalia only a few years ago; the other was a 20-year old teaching assistant who sacrificed his life as he shielded other children from attack.

The police later confirmed that the perpetrator had been driven by rightwing, racist convictions and had deliberately targeted non-white pupils and staff.hands-956652_1920

That evening, as I said goodnight to my young daughters, who are a beautiful mixture of their Swedish mother and Caribbean father, I felt desperately sad, angry, and afraid.

Sad for the families who’ve lost their sons and brothers to a senseless, racially motivated, hate crime.

Angry and despairing that in 2015, people are still being judged, discriminated against and murdered because of the colour of their skin, their ethnic identity or religious beliefs.

Afraid of the rising xenophobia that is apparent not only in Sweden but across Europe, where one government after another takes measures to close their country’s borders to thousands of refugees desperately seeking a safe haven.

Moments like this serve as a stark reminder that I have a responsibility to teach my children that every single human being who’s walked this earth is born whole.


Who Says It’s a Disfigurement?

I use the word ‘disfigurement’ a lot in my writing, in my volunteer work, and in conversation even though it’s a word I’m not particularly keen on, given its negative connotations.

Changing Faces, the charity I volunteer for, uses ‘disfigurement’ as a noun (i.e. a person with/who has a disfigurement) but avoids it as an adjective (i.e. a disfigured person). I may have a disfigurement, but it doesn’t define me.fruit-741167_1920

Some people prefer terms like ‘facial difference’ or ‘unusual appearance,’ but personally I find these too vague to be of much use. After all, everyone’s face is different.

Looking up the word ‘disfigurement’ in numerous dictionaries, the most common definition I found was disfigurement as something that ‘spoils’ a person’s appearance.

But who determines whether something or other spoils someone’s appearance? Can appearance be objectively measured?

It turns out that there is no universally shared understanding of what constitutes a disfigurement, just as there’s no universal definition of what is ‘normal.’

It’s all largely a matter of interpretation.

eye-240843_1920So if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, could it be that disfigurement (i.e. something that ‘spoils’ a person’s appearance) is also in the eye of the beholder? Why not?

I recently came across an article on facial disfigurement, which argued that the definition of disfigurement is culturally determined; therefore, a disfigurement is only a disfigurement if cultural prejudices deem it so.

Understood this way, the degree of facial disfigurement is determined by the strength of negative reactions it provokes in others.

Absent the negative reactions, a facial difference is simply a difference and not a disfigurement.

If that’s the case, then it’s the societal attitudes and prejudices towards facial differences that need fixing rather than the faces themselves.people-304353_1280

Mindful Halloween

October is one of my favourite times of the year, for this is when the autumn presents itself at its most magnificent.

autumn-811325_1920The temperature has suddenly dropped, but the crisp air feels fresh and invigorating. What I love the most though is the splendid array of colours on the trees: yellow, orange, red, and even purple. Walking down the street where I now live and which, fortunately, is lined with plenty of trees, I feel as if I am part of a vast autumn painting.

My youngest daughter collects fallen leaves of all sizes for her collage making. She sticks them onto her daddy’s white printing paper and spends so much time perfecting her artwork that we’re rushing to get to school on time.

For many people, children especially, the highlight of October is Halloween. My eldest daughter is sewing herself a cape for the occasion and her little sister is already parading around our neighbourhood in an enormous witch’s hat with long green hair. Halloween is every day as far as she’s concerned. By the way, the green hair rather suits her. Continue reading

“Since I’ll Never Be Beautiful, I Have to Be Smart”

What girl doesn’t want to be beautiful? Those who grew up with Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty as role models were from an early age made to believe that beauty equalled goodness and that being pretty was a virtue.princess-869721_1280

With a perpetual fat lip and funny-looking nose, I felt anything but beautiful, and I was convinced that only my grandmother thought I was pretty.

I dreaded the annual school photo op and I always tried to hide my ‘ugly’ side from the camera. I eventually discovered that even the photographer tried to arrange me so that my less flattering features didn’t spoil the picture. Continue reading